Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meditation isn’t Just for Hippies, and Doesn’t Need to Cut into your Precious Free Time

Meditation is an interesting word. While its definition seems pretty straight forward, what it evokes in people differs greatly one to the other. In fact, if you asked your closest friends and family, you would most likely receive some starkly different responses. Though the idea of meditating may seem to some as 20 minutes of boredom, or even wasted time, what acceptance of this word can do is outstanding. 

One doesn’t need to go on a lavish retreat in a foreign country, or seek out a guru, to learn about the benefits of meditation. All you really need is a few moments of concentration, a little creativity, and the desire to learn a new tool. Meditation isn’t about sitting alone, cross-legged, in a dark room with candles and incense, it is about mindfulness. It’s about bringing focus and acceptance to daily tasks. While we all have to-do lists containing less desirable boxes to check off, being able to go about this in a mindful way can actually make the menial more meaningful; it just takes a different approach than what we are used to.

With a simple Google search, one is able to pick up easy tips on what it is to meditate. According to the Buddhism About page, meditation is the amalgamate of 4 simple steps: 

1. Mindfulness of Body
2. Mindfulness of Feelings
3.) Mindfulness of Mind
4.) Mindfulness of Dharma

So how does this apply to your daily life? Here is an example of how one can mix meditation with something we all do each day; eating...

Mindfulness of Body - To be mindful of the body means to be aware of what's happening in you. In a meditation class, attendees will sit and begin to bring focus to their breath. This can include bringing awareness to breathing into the chest or stomach, how long their inhale (in a relative count) is vs. their exhale, as well as what areas of the body are working, relaxed, stuck, or achy. In daily life, when you sit down at your chosen space to eat, focus on your breath for maybe 30 seconds or minute, while concentrating on how it works with your body in the position which you normally eat. This prepares you to eat meditatively, bringing attention to your entire being.

Mindfulness of Feeling - While this can (and should) include what emotions become apparent during the action, what feeling means is literally how the activity works with the senses. Instead of eating while watching TV, reading, or even having conversation, try taking a few moments to engage with your food before scarfing it down. It may be weird not to use utensils, but try feeling your food, exploring the texture or temperature, smelling it, and getting a good visual image before actually taking a bite. While chewing, see how that texture feels in your mouth. Listen to the noises the food makes. See if you can still catch wafts of the food's scent. These small steps take only a few moments, but help you engage with your food, tasting it in a way we oft experience. 

Mindfulness of Mind - As simple as this sounds, this may be the hardest step. As what is off putting for many mediation objectors, this is the step where you try and clear your head. In our society, letting the mind rest isn’t easy. The harder we try, the more thoughts flood in. Instead of combating the deluge, what this step means is being aware of what is happening upstairs while you eat. Are you drifting somewhere? Instead of letting your mind engage with this thought, see what that thought is. Recognize you had a thought, maybe label if it is a thought of the future, commitments, or even a fear you have, then bring your focus back to the information the senses are feeding you about your meal. The mind drifts, but it doesn’t need to ruin concentration. By realizing you are drifting, acknowledging it, and returning to the task at hand, you continue to concentrate, continuing your mindfulness practice. This may happen one time or 50 times, but as long as your focus returns to eating, you are still meditating.

Mindfulness of Dharma - While Dharma is a debate in itself, for all intents and purposes for this activity, mindfulness of dharma means being aware of your intention and being gracious. Why are you eating? Is it for nourishment? Are you bored? Are you stress eating? Whatever the reason you are indulging in a meal, learn that reason, keep it at the forefront of the activity, and be thankful for the food in your hand. 

By approaching a daily task such as eating, exercising, or cleaning, in this fashion, a busy person can incorporate mindfulness and mediation into their daily lives. Be it 5 minutes or 15, with these steps you will gain a level of concentration and focus that seemed to disappear with the introduction of iPhones. It may not come the first try, but with a little imagination and desire to make a less-desirable task more palatable, these practices can be applied nearly anywhere throughout the day. 

People can’t be forced to become more mindful. If meditation isn’t your thing, it isn’t your thing. For those who are ready to increase focus and bring about a more conscious approach to day-to-day life, adding small increments of meditation to your day will do wonders. While it does take practice, creation of a mindful habits will increase concentration, efficacy, and overall enjoyment that will be seen day-in, day-out.  

Photos courtesy of the GuardianMemecenter, and Connect113

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Great Autumn Day Hikes, Easily Accessible to Front Rangers

The view from one of the front range's finest day hikes

Autumn in Colorado is known for a few things; proliferating yoga pants, pumpkin beer/coffee/food, and the striking phenomena of leaves changing colors. You can see it in the high country to the front rage, and even to the east somewhat if you are lucky. This is the season where afterwork trail runs and hikes are being cut short by darkness, and frost on car windows and grass is becoming more common. When the fresh, chilly autumn air begins to hit Colorado, there is a striking change that comes over the state, beyond just seasons and colors. While we may still have a handful of days in the 90’s, this is the perfect time to seize optimal temperatures for lower-elevation hikes.

Changing leaves in the midsts of evergreen

With an overflowing pool of options, this past week I decided to spend the day exploring the trails off of the Hessie Trailhead. Located only a few miles out of Nederland, these trails, which hug and penetrate the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, are great for day trippers from the city. 

With multiple trails starting from Hessie, the most popular is Lost Lake. The trail is less than 3 miles from start to finish, and offers a ton of pistes boasting views of the surrounding valley or moving water. Be warned, this is a favorite amongst those in Ned, as well as Boulder, Denver, and the surrounding areas. Weekend hikes are synonymous with packed trails.

The approach to the Hessie Trailhead

For those looking for a longer and more arduous jaunt, Hessie Trailhead is also the starting point for hikes to a multitude of lakes, with some of the most popular being Woodland, Skyscraper, King's, and Devil's Thumb. Most of these hikes run at a minimum of 8 miles for out and back, as well as posting heavy inclines. The reward, of course, is breathtaking views and lonelier trails. 

Lost Lake at its finest

The first glimpse of Woodland Lake

Woodland Lake, a 9.1 mile hike

As the leaves are already changing, it may be time to cash in one of your sick days in exchange for a intimate glimpse of the fiery reds and oranges, intermixed with fleeting green. Remember, the days aren't getting any longer, and the leaves don't wait for anyone. Before you know it, the trails may be barren and snow covered, at least until the next unexpected warm patch. 

Photos Courtesy of Author

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Patience is a Virtue... or the Collateral Damage of Travel

A few days back, I decided to bike commute to a morning yoga class. It was a dreary day, and although I was cold, I enjoy biking. I'm not a big fan of being in the car, and I'm especially not a big fan of daily commutes. After hitting some traffic, I found myself on a relatively desolate, two lane road, but with little to no bike lane. Though I was enjoying my morning jaunt to class, the lady driving the overpriced, luxury SUV behind me seemed to have a less jovial attitude as she rode my ass, laid on the horn, and nearly clipped me while erratically changing lanes (why she didn't change lanes earlier is beyond me). The Irony of our opposing mentalities and daily endeavors aside, what this small incident remind is a belief that those who travel, consciously or not, have a more developed sense of patience.

I'll be the first to admit there are definite holes in this theory. If you put me in a car, morning after morning, trying to beat traffic on the way to a job I probably am not entirely stoked on, I'm sure my patience would be waining as well. In the same light, not all people who have "traveled," have been bestowed the opportunities to learn patience that some of us vagabonds have...but bear with me, I think I can get you to see the light.

There is an intangible, yet gaping, divide between the experiences of those who have left the developed world, and those who have not. In the developed world, we believe in the "on-the-go," lifestyle. Especially in the land of the stars and stripes, the idea of sitting and eating a meal,  actually enjoying your morning coffee, or even focusing on a single task, is unheard of. We are programmed from a young age to forget our own schedules, believing that if we are late, or something breaks our daily routine, the end of the universe is inevitable. It's sad, but the idea of waiting or portraying the tiniest sliver of patience, is about as common as a lasting marriage.

Now, imagine THIS existence compared to places where linear time doesn't rule all. A place where schedules come and go, and on top of that, shit CAN and WILL happen at nearly every opportunity. Sure a bus or train can be late in the developed world, but imagine not knowing if a train or bus will even show up at all. Maybe it never reached capacity, so the company decided to scrap it for the day. Maybe free roaming animals decided to take a nap in the middle of the street, so the patrons of the bus are forced to wait while the flustered driver tries to wake and shoo the sleepy beasts. If that was something you experienced a few times in your life, do you really think a biker on the far end of one of two lanes would infuriate you to the point of near homicide?

What you learn while venturing into different existences is that the world is full of surprises. While an unexpected hiccup in the states may derail a person's day, a literal derailed train elsewhere in the world may not phase someone who is used to the adapting to life's curveballs. The unexpected is inevitable, and while we will all experience it at some point, how we react to this surprising visitor is what really matters. My guess is that 9 times out of 10, a person who has traveled will be much more patient and understanding to this simple twist of fate than that of their counterparts. I'm fairly certain that the person who traveled may even see the unexpected as an opportunity, not a burden, and their day will continue in a seamless fashion.

The next time you have an encounter with an unplanned detour, remember there are always different routes back to the main road. Are you going to be the person who lays on the horn and complains, or are you going to change lanes with grace?

Photos courtesy of Doscity

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Does a home base make you less of a traveler?

The image of a vagabond is pretty straight forward; disheveled, full backpack, tattered clothes, sun kissed, wandering. While all these descriptives do justice to a portrait many long-term travelers like to identify with, does this small paradigm truly describe what traveling should look like? Does one have to adopt a minimalist approach, living out of what fits in a backpack, and never staying in one place too long, to really be a “traveler?” Do drifters and tumbleweeds have to renounce the idea of a base or bed to be drifters and tumbleweeds? Maybe it’s just me, but I think that trying to encapsulate the idea of exploration in a simple checklist may be a misguided approach.

I’m sitting now at a desk a friend gave me. The black, functional, yet tried and tired office item is in a townhouse I own, in the state where I was born. Today marks the one week anniversary of me being stagnant in said state and townhouse. After about a year and a half out of the country, followed by another 4 months on the road within my land of origin, the idea of sleeping in the same bed every night doesn’t sound abrasive. actually, clean sheets and a kitchen to cook in nearly brings me to tears. While I am back in the good ole USA, does that mean I’ve sold my backpack and told the whispering wind to shove it? No, it doesn’t. In fact, this little side trip is a way to create a travel lifestyle that fits my needs.

What most of us travelers know, yet hate to admit, is that cash flow is an important part of life. Whether you are deep in the jungle in southeast Asia, or sipping some of the finest caffeinated beverages in Melbourne, money is important. The amount to which one needs and how one allocates funds is relative. On 
the same note, the way one finds these funds is also up for interpretation. For me, having a place that I can pay off with roommates, and also profit off of through sublets, enables me to have a small disposable income. It gives me storage space, a place to rest my head, but doesn’t nearly tie me down in a way I initially assumed. What this place does is allow me to travel and retreat based around my own terms.

One of my favorite traveler writers, Wandering Earl, wrote a wonderful piece about forgoing worry of other’s judgements. For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that as much as a dig sleeping in the cheapest guest houses, bumming on couches, and frolicking in the breeze’s navigation, I do like the idea of a safety net. I like being able to have a savings account, as well as a place to rest my head when I come home to the place and people I love. Don’t get me wrong, being 27 and shackin’ up with the parents is swell, but as time progresses, and I do in accordance, there are certain things I’ve realized are important to me. The idea of investment and multiple sources of income has become an important fixture in my vocabulary. While this new person emerging scares me, he seems to have some interesting points. I also really dig the sources he cites. I think he may be on to something…

What it all boils down to is life is about finding your purpose. For some, that purpose is to drift in the wind. For others, it is to find a career, a spouse, and a house, and live that way until the 
rapture.  For those of us in between, life is about creating the balance that allows you to flow, permeate, and hustle to your hearts content. I realize the people I respect most are those who love to travel, yet keep progressing. It’s the people who create a lifestyle where they move about freely, yet still delve into any culture that crosses their path. It’s those who can absolutely love slumming it in backpacker haven, then take a trip to the unknown, and still return to their home and loved ones for a jaunt in the frightening western world. Those people are the travelers whom I believe in.

For me, my current domicile in Colorado does just fine (that is until ski season comes and goes!) While I may be back in Colorado for the time being, I adore the 
fact I see this place as home. Travel is what one makes of it. If through your journeys you realize a home base is what you need, or at least a trip outside of your current trip, you are the only person capable of making that decision. The funny thing is, once you stop caring and actually follow that intuition, the more balanced you will feel, and the more opportunities to create this desired lifestyle will arrive.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images, Listability, and Vagabond Journey